Assuming those reading this already have some understanding of Integral, I am seeking to explain in the most succinct fashion the related nature of Integral to what Jordan Peterson talks about as the A-priori framework for perceptual understanding. It is my belief that Integral Theory is this A-priori structure and is what we need to understand if we are seeking to more deeply develop ourselves and the world at large.
So, what is this A-priori framework or structure? It is the apparatus we use to cognate the world around us. It is the tool we use to see, not that which is seen. This may seem like a subtle difference and be slightly hard to grasp, though it is quite important. Think of it as a tool of glasses. With this apparatus we can see the world around us. At the same time, it affects how we see that world. If those glasses are out of focus, we won’t get a clear image. If they are sunglasses, they change the vibrancy and contrast of what we see. If they’re rose-colored… well, you get the point. Despite the change and very real affects that these lenses have on our perceptions, if we are so thoroughly distracted by what we are perceiving then we may not even notice these lenses at all. To relate this back to the A-priori structure and Integral if we are so caught up in our day to day lives and enticing distractions, we can very easily never notice that we all have the same set of lenses or the same cognitive framework through which we perceive the world.
"And so, what a biological organism does is take the facts and translate them into perception and action. The only organism that do that with one-to-one mapping are organisms that are composed of sensory-motor cells like sponges, marine sponges which are composed of sensory-motor cells. They don’t have an intermediary nervous system. So, what they do, is they sit in the water and they make a sponge. They’re so simple that if you grind a sponge through a sieve in salt water it’ll reorganize itself into the sponge. So that’s quite cool. The sponge sits in the water, and what it does is, there’s waves on it and those are patterns. And the sponge opens and closes pores on its surface in response to those patterns. So, it maps the pattern of the waves right onto its behavior with no intermediary nervous system. But it can only map waves, that’s all it can do. And it can only open and close pores. That’s it. So, it does one-to-one fact-to-value mapping. Now what happens is that as the complexity of a biological organism increases two things happen. The first thing that happens is that the sensory and motor cells differentiate and so now the organism has sensory cells and motor cells. So, cells to detect and cells to act. It can detect more patterns because it’s more sophisticated at the sensory perspective and it can do more things because it has specialized motor systems but then what happens is that as it gets even more complex, then it puts an intermediary of nervous tissue in there and that structure increases in the number of layers of neurons. And what that means is that as that happens and as the sensory cells become more specialized and the motor output cells become more specialized many more patterns can be detected, those are roughly equivalent to facts, and many more motor outputs can be manifested but a tremendous number of calculations has to occur in that intermediary nervous tissue. And that’s the structure that I’m talking about. That structure exists, and it translates the patterns into motor output. And it doesn’t do it on a one-to-one basis because there are more patterns, ‘more facts’, than there are motor outputs. So, what has to happen is this tremendous plethora of facts that surrounds us has to be filtered to the point where you pick a single action 'cause you can't act otherwise. And so the mechanism that reduces the number of facts to the selected action is the mechanism that mediates between facts and values."
"See, I think the manner in which facts are translated into values is something that actually evolved, and it evolved over three and a half billion years, the three and a half billion years of life. And it built the nervous system from the bottom up and it built this reducing mechanism that takes the infinite number of facts and translates them into a single value per action and it does that in layers. And so there is a relationship between the world of facts and the world of values and there has to be, but it isn’t derivable one-to-one in the confines of your single existence through pure rationality. It’s way more complicated than that.”
“And so, that’s what I’m after. What are these profound moral intuitions and what is their source? Like I’m perfectly willing to make the claim, and have in fact in detail, that these moral intuitions… See this is a place where we differ a little bit and maybe we can go here tomorrow night. See, it seems to me that, for your argument is the facts are laying out there and you can extract out value from them and we already described why you want to do that because you want to at least not move into the nihilistic direction and you want to ground them in some sort of reality. It’s like, fair enough. But the thing is is that the facts as they are have been around for a very very very very long time, let’s say three and a half billion years - the entire expanse of life. And it’s the operation of those facts on life that has produced the a-priori implicit interpretive structures that guide our interaction with the facts. And those a-priori implicit structures that have emerged out of this evolutionary course have a structure that mediates between us and the facts that cannot be derived from the facts at hand. So, then the question is what is that structure? And it’s in both of our interests to get that right [SH: “yeah”] because you do use that as the source of moral intuition. It’s like, right, agreed. That’s the source of moral intuition.”
This practice of using a particular simplification, or narration, to understand and act is good enough and so it gets validated and practiced more until it no longer becomes valid in some new situation. The problem at that point, is that a new narration of slightly less simplification, or more complexity, is needed; we need to update our software. It will need to be created to replace or append the existing habit of narrated simplification and this is not always an easy process though is easier said than done. This becomes the process of updating our old habits to new ones; updating old narrations to new ones. It’s not that we must completely get rid of the old ones, it is simply that we need to refine them along the way. We need to increase the resolution as our current narrations are no longer accurate enough to continue to produce successful outcomes. But where do these human narrations come from?
"One of the things that has been observed by anthropologists world-wide is that human being tend to make sacrifices. So I'm gonna spend two minutes, three minutes, laying out a sacrificial story and the reason I want to do it is because, see what I think happened with regards to the origin of these profound stories is that people first started to behave in certain ways that had survival significance. And that was selected for as a consequence of the standard selection practices. So that was instantiated into behaviour and then because we could observe ourselves, because we are self-conscious creatures, that we started to make representations of those patterns and dramatize them and then encapsulate them in stories. So it's bottom-up. So it would be sort of like chimpanzees or wolves become aware of their dominance hierarchy structures and the strategies that they use. So a wolf for example, if two wolves are having a dominance dispute the wolf that gives up first, lays down, put his neck open so that the other wolf can tear it out. And then the other wolf doesn't. And you can say, 'well it's as if a wolf is following a rule about not killing a weaker member of the pack'. Of course, wolves don't have rules, they have behavioral patterns. But a self-conscious wolf would watch what the wolves were doing and then say 'well, it's as if we're acting out the idea that each wolf in the pack has intrinsic value'. And then that starts... And then maybe the wolves would have a little story about heroic forbearing wolf that doesn't tear out the neck of it's opponents and that's good wolf ethics. But it's grounded in the actual behaviour. Okay, we'll put that aside for a second. Now, here's the sacrificial story. Human beings have made some sacrifices, it seems to be a standard practice all around the world."
"Let's say that I'm trying to give the Devil his due and I'm trying to understand from an evolutionary perspective, a cognitive behavioral evolutionary perspective let's say, why that particular set of ideas [sacrifice] would emerge in many places, perhaps autonomously, or once having emerged, would spread like wildfire? Because I'm not willing to only attribute it to ignorance, now we can attribute it to ignorance no problem, but there is more going on there because it is a human universal. There are all sorts of things that happen in nature as a consequence of biological and evolutionary processes that don't work out well for our current state of moral intuition."
SH: "Agreed, yes."
JP: "So, one of the things, because I've been thinking about this sacrificial motif for a very long time; trying to figure out what the hell is the idea here exactly. So here is one way of thinking about it. If you give up something of value now, you can gain something of more value in the future. Let's think about that idea for a minute. That's a hell of an idea. That's delay of gratification."
SH: "That's delay of gratification."
JP: "That's right. That's the discovery of the future as well. And so, you might say the notion of sacrifice is exactly the same thing as the discovery of the future. If we give up something we really value now we can make a pact with the structure of existence itself such that better things will happen to us in the future."
BW: "So, It sounds to me, Sam, like you are hypothesizing that a rationalist approach will always beat a traditional metaphorical approach with respect to the generation of well-being."
SH: "Well, not always. There's so many obvious downsides to the traditional sectarian dogmatic approach that we should want to get out of the religion business as fast as possible."
BW: "As fast as possible. But do you mean that it has always been true that we should always have gotten away from it as fast as possible? Or do you mean, now, we should get away from it as fast as possible but there is a point somewhere in the past where it might have been true that actually the best, the richest path to well-being might have been encoded metaphorically?"
SH: "Oh, yeah, that's certainly possible. In fact you might even say it was likely based on the fact that we have all these systems still around. "
JP: "We still have the systems around in part because we still think in metaphor and we actually can't help it because half of our brain is oriented towards metaphor."
BW: "Can I get you [Jordan] to clarify something now? Okay, so you have argued, and you've actually quite surprised me by doing so, but you've argued that the dogmatism is a bug and not a feature."
JP: "No, it's a bug and a feature."
BW: "It's a bug and a feature. Good. So, But what I thought I heard you say was that the resistance to update was a problem that was effectively an obstacle."
JP: "Yes. So is lack of resistance to update. There are problems everywhere man."
BW: "Well, there's a tension."
JP: "There is a tension. Right. Well, look at it this way. Most new ideas are stupid and dangerous, but some of them are vital. And so we're screwed both ways. It's like, if we stay locked in our current mode of apprehension all hell's going to break lose. If we generate a whole bunch of new solutions most of them are going to be wrong and we're going to die. And so, what we need to do, well it's a Darwinian claim in some sense, is despite the fact that most new ideas stupid and dangerous a subset of them are so vital that if we don't incorporate them we're all going to perish. That's the bloody existential condition. Part of the issue here... The problem is is that, let's take the "dogma" idea. Okay, so there's the dogma incorporated in the books. But I'm gonna throw away the books because the dogma was there before the books. And then the question is where was the dogma? And the answer was the dogma was in the cultural practices and in the agreement that people made with regards to those cultural practices. But it was also part and parcel of the inter-psychic structure that enables us to perceive the world as such. Now the problem is, and I think this is the central place where we need to flesh out these ideas, is that you cannot view the world without and A-priori structure. And that A-priori structure has a dogmatic element. And so you can't say 'well let's get rid of the dogma' because you can't perceive the world without a structure."
“There's lots about which Sam and I agree, but the devil's in the details of course. I'm very sympathetic to his claim that we need to ground our ethical systems in something solid and demonstrable. My problem is, I'm not sure how to do that. I don't believe you can derive a value structure from your experience of the observable facts. There's too many facts, you need a structure to interpret them, and there's isn't very much of you. And so part of the way that's addressed neurologically, is that you have an inbuilt structure. It's deep. It's partly biological. It's partly an emergent consequence of your socialization. And you view the world of facts through that structure. And it's a structure of value. Now that structure of value may be derived from the world of facts over the evolutionary time-frame, but it’s not derived from the world of facts over the time-frame that you inhabit, and it can’t be. So, the problem I have with our discussion so far isn’t really any of Sam’s fundamental ethical claims because I do believe that there’s a distinction between the hellish life and the heavenly life, say. The life that everyone would agree was absolutely not worth living and the life we could imagine as good. And I do believe that we should be moving from one to the other. The question is exactly how is it that we make the decisions that will guide us along that way? And I don’t believe that we can make them without that a-priori structure, in fact I think the evidence is absolutely overwhelming that we can’t, and I mean also the scientific evidence. And I would like to go further into the devil that’s in those details. And so, that’s my situation at the moment.”
After considering the above comments from Peterson on our A-priori framework let’s see how these comments align with Integral Theory. Taking the liberty to summarize Jordan Peterson’s evaluations of this a-priori structure and put it in terms of Integral Theory and language, what do we have?
The structure which underlies our ability to process data is both a bottom-up process and a top-down one. It has originated from the organic physical interactions with the external world in the right-hand-side quadrants to evolve the bottom-up side of the process. It has also been a process of internal value judgments in the left-hand-side quadrants pushing for desired and favorable outcomes. Any organism or animal will seek that which provides a hierarchy of needs which Maslow described for humans as moving from safety and survival, through comfort, belonging, achievement and towards self-transcendence.
The process humanity has gone through to get to this point has been one of evolving from Magenta, to Red, to Blue, to Orange, to Green, and into Yellow. It has been a process of updating older adequate habits, narrations, and software towards new more-adequate habits, narrations, software. In other words, the process of refining our collective image to understand greater details for more complexity and opportunity.
Peterson talks about sacrifice and the discovery of the future. This coincides with the development of the mental/conceptual self of fulcrum 3 (or pond 3 described here). At this fulcrum the ability to process narrative timeline with a temporal understanding is a new skill cognitively available to humans. This is exemplified within the establishment of Red horticultural societies in history as well as the development of a Red egocentric children our individual development. From this point on, humanity could use these new cognitive skills to begin codifying the beneficial or detrimental habits of the past and orally pass them on, as illustrated by Peterson's wolf ethics example. It is only through Blue Agrarian societies that these codes are written, wide-spread, and enter into the dogmatic realms of religion. This again has its mirror in our individual process of growth into fulcrum 4 of the Rule/Role Mind where children unquestioningly believe the rules, roles, and traditions from a point of authority within the tribe. Following this updated software means survival and long-term success, disobeying is simply yesteryear's egocentric folly doomed for failure. At this point this Blue narration was the most updated human software. Thousands of years later, the renaissance was the beginning of this next level of cognitive capability. This new update to the human code came in the form of Orange Industrial Societies. This new language was science and was immediately at odds with the previous update of religion. Fulcrum 5, the formal operational or ‘What if’ mind brought the capability to question. As mentioned within history, this was the introduction of the rational approach of the scientific method. Within our individual growth this is generally the start of teens questioning their own culture and often rebelling against the previous dogmas. Beyond this, humanity has updated our software to be refined by Green being fulcrum 6 Early vision-logic. This is a systemic viewpoint often dealing in far-reaching ideas and is also called existentialist. Historically this was our collective update from industrial societies to informational ones and with it was our update from national achievement to global welfare.
This process of human growth has only been the last few hundred thousand years of the updating to our software. Jordan Peterson tries to be able to mediate between facts and values and seems as though he is seeking a Rosetta stone to translate the world of values into the world of facts or vice versa. However, both worlds exist simultaneously and are each other’s correlates where neither one will fully explain the other. What is needed, and seems like Jordan Peterson is looking for, is and Integrating map; Integral Theory.
I came across this nice succinct quote about Integral Theory from Ken Wilber. For those who may not know the Hindu term Samsara is described as the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.
"AQAL is a map of Samsara, a map of the prison, but if you’re gonna make a prison break, you need a good map." (Laughter) – Ken Wilber
This is the tension towards growth from below, and away from growth beyond. This is the nature of conservative culture. It ensures that there is stability but yet does not value the attempts towards what Peterson mentioned as the search for new ideas so vital it is important to try an enormous amount of failures to find them. This conservative tradition simple holds balance while those vital new ideas are truly found.
And so if we look at this A-priori framework as a checklist of qualities which Peterson describes as well as those qualities which align with Integral Theory we can see the following:
They are both an understanding of the structure of perception. They both have an evolutionary developmental path which is both bottom-up and top-down. They both show a path towards greater definition or higher resolution for what we perceive. They explain the existence of a dogmatic element which is necessary within our path while also explaining the bug and feature aspects it brings. That dogmatic element is housed within the cultural modes of collaboration [Blue]. And as a key role to what Peterson consistently mentioned, they also allow for an understanding of the relationship between facts and values.
Lastly, the vital idea Integral brings forward is that our development is a process which can be navigated and grounded in the idea of process itself. With an Integral map we can make space for grounding a system of ethics in ever increasingly inclusive modes of being.
What does our next great system of ethics and organization look like on a societal level? (Check out the book Horizons of Heart for what an Integrally guided society could look like.)
What do you think about Integral and this A-priori framework?
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